What is oxytocin?
In breastfeeding, oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone produced when a mother expects a feed, senses her baby such as seeing her baby or hearing her baby cry, and when the baby is suckling. It causes “let-down,” a process where the milk is squeezed from the glands into the ducts.
How does oxytocin nasal spray work?
Oxytocin causes “let-down” which helps the baby get to the milk more easily.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial was conducted in 51 mothers to test if oxytocin increases early milk production in mothers expressing milk for preterm infants. The trial did not show a statistically significant difference between the oxytocin and placebo sprays, however women in the oxytocin group produced slightly more milk on Day 2 of the trial. Although mothers complained that their milk production decreased after stopping the sprays, data were not collected for milk production after the sprays were stopped.
Frequently Asked Questions
- If I take oxytocin nasal spray while breastfeeding, will it hurt my baby?
The brain normally releases this hormone and during feeding, it will be released by the mothers’ and baby’s brains. Oxytocin is currently used to induce labor. When given intravenously, oxytocin is used to induce labor because it increases uterine contraction frequency. Oxytocin nasal spray should not be used in pregnant women for this reason, however, when oxytocin is used for postpartum breastfeeding, the medication is safe for the mother and baby.
- How long does it take oxytocin nasal spray to work?
Patients can use one to two sprays in each nostril 2-5 minutes before each breastfeeding. The nasal spray formulation allows the oxytocin to travel across the blood brain barrier quickly.
- If I don’t like using nasal sprays, is there any other way for me to take oxytocin?
Oxytocin cannot be absorbed by the body if taken by mouth. Another way that oxytocin can be taken is tilting the head backwards to drip the oxytocin into the nostrils. It can also be sprayed on the back of the throat or under the tongue, however this may be less effective.
- What are the side effects of oxytocin nasal spray?
The nasal spray is usually well tolerated. The most commonly reported side effects are constipation, thirst, headaches, and increased urination.
Lexi Smith, PharmD Candidate 2023
Midtown Express Pharmacy
- Yatawara, C J et al. “The effect of oxytocin nasal spray on social interaction deficits observed in young children with autism: a randomized clinical crossover trial.” Molecular psychiatry vol. 21,9 (2016): 1225-31. doi:10.1038/mp.2015.162
- Fewtrell MS, Loh K, Blake A, et al. Randomised, double-blind trial of oxytocin nasal spray in mothers expressing breast milk for preterm infants. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2006;91:F169–74.